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Daw Suu's Letter from Burma #27

Mainichi Daily News, Monday, May 27, 1996


"A Fishy Episode"

Letter from Burma (No. 27) by Aung San Suu Kyi

	It is traditional to release caged birds or fish on Burmese New Year's Day
as an act of merit.  In April 1989, the last Burmese New Year I celebrated
before my house arrest, we released some doves, launching them into the
emptiness above the Inya Lake on which my house stands.  The poor creatures
had become used to captivity and fluttered about in a dazed way before they
gained enough confidence to take off.  One fell into the reeds at the edge
of the lake and had to be rescued and relaunched.  It hovered uncertainly
near us for a few minutes before soaring away into the distance.  We hoped
that its flight would not end in the snare of a bird catcher.  Many released
birds are caught again and again and sold and resold to those who wish to
gain the merit of freeing caged creatures.  I could not help wondering how
much value there could be to a gesture of liberation that does not truly
guarantee freedom.
	This year the women's wing of the NLD decided to arrange a fish-releasing
ceremony on New Year's Day, April 16.  They would gather at my house and
walk in procession to a pond near the Shwedagon Pagoda where the fish could
be released to swim their lives out in peace.  The Rangoon Division Law and
Order Restoration Council (LORC) was informed of our plan before the
beginning of the water festival which precedes the New Year.  On April 15,
the authorities reacted.  A number of township NLD offices received letters
from their respective LORCs forbidding them to go ahead with the ceremony.
In addition U Aung Shwe, the chairman of the NLD, and two of the members of
the Executive Committee were asked to come to the office of the Bahan
Township LORC.  A statement was read out: The government could not allow the
NLD ceremony to take place; as the ceremony would be conducted in the form
of a public gathering organized by a political party, it would have to be
considered a political activity and the authorities could not allow
political benefit to be derived from a traditional ceremony.  Further, such
a gathering would be detrimental to peace and harmony, to the rule of law
and to the prevalence of order.  It would disturb and destroy peace and
harmony in the nation and incite fear and alarm.  U Aung Shwe countered that
the whole statement was based on mere assumptions and left a written protest.
	The reaction of the authorities was both nonsensical and revealing.  The
SLORC makes repeated claims that they have succeeded in restoring law and
order and peace and harmony to the land.  How fragile must be the law and
order and peace and harmony to the land.  How fragile must be the law and
order that can be seriously threatened by a procession of women taking part
in a traditional religious ceremony.  How insubstantial must be the peace
and harmony in a country where such a procession is expected to throw the
populace into a panic.  We knew that what the authorities really feared was
not so much a public disturbance as a demonstration of public support for
the NLD.  However, New Year's Day should be an auspicious occasion and we
wished it to be a day of happiness rather than confrontation, so we canceled
our plans for the releasing of fish.  We would listen to the chanting of
protective sutras and pay our respects to our elders.  But the authorities
had other plans.
	On New Year's Day at about 11:30 in the morning, the street in front of my
house was blocked off with barbed wire barricades.  Nobody was allowed to
come in or go out except members of the security forces and numbers of
awkward-looking men in civilian clothes, each with a handkerchief tied
around one wrist.  We discovered later that these were members of the Union
Solidarity and Development Association.  They had been collected from
various townships and told to beat up those members of the NLD who came in
through the barricades.  The USDA were assured that the authorities would be
behind them.  Once serious fighting had erupted, all those involved would be
taken away to prison (there were several prison vans waiting at the local
police station), but USDA members would soon be released.  The NLD members
would no doubt be given substantial prison sentences.  Thus, the USDA was
"promoted"from mere tomato throwers to that of thugs.  (In "An Eventful
Week" I wrote about the aborted plan to throw tomatoes at us; on that
occasion USDA members had rubber bands around their wrists as an identifying
	The planned violence did not materialize because the NLD members took a
firm, disciplined stand.  They did not rush the barricades but they refused
to leave on the orders of the security forces.  They waited for a decision
to be taken by the members of the Executive Committee who had been allowed
to come to my house.  We decided that the ceremony of paying respect to the
elders must go ahead; if our people were prevented from coming to us, we
would go out to them.  Accordingly, we walked out through he barricades to
where our people stood and thus an auspicious New Year's Day ceremony took
place in the middle of the street, near a crossroad.  It seemed an omen that
the NLF would not lack public attention during the coming year.

* * *

This article is one of a yearlong series of letters, the Japanese
translation of which appears in the Mainichi Shimbun the same day, or the
previous day in some areas.